Starbucks name

My father has what he calls his Starbucks name, the name that he gives the staff to holler out when his coffee is ready for him. He has several times initiated a conversation about what my Starbucks name should be. It’s not just at the eponymous coffeeshop, of course, but in almost any situation where a person might give a name that has to be remembered and called out in public.

I am bothering telling you so because the phrase and idea is in one of the questions in a Survey about American Jewish First Names being conducted on-line by Sarah Bunin Benor and Jason Bronowitz. It had not occurred to me that the notion of a Starbucks name would be a Jewish idea… and maybe it isn’t. So, since names are words and coffee is stuff, I bring it to any of y’all who read this blog: do you have a Starbucks name? Why? Why not? Do you think your choice of Starbucks name has a particular political power? Or do you think of it (as my father does) as a concession to a world that is unwilling to bend itself to you? Do you use a Starbucks name because your name is uncommon, or because it is too common? Do you work as a barista or host or other position that involves calling out names—and do you have any thoughts about the use of Starbucks names?


4 Responses to “Starbucks name”

  1. Jed

    I always thought of Starbucks names as a subcategory of restaurant names, which I think are very common—the thing where you give a fake name when you get in the queue for a table at a restaurant. I know lots of non-Jewish people who do that. Usually a WASPonym, on the assumption that those are more likely to be recognized, written down, and pronounced reasonably accurately by the staff.

    I long ago got tired of having to spell and re-spell the name Jed for restaurant staff, so I started telling them my name is Jay. But even that has occasionally led to confusion, such as the times I’ve been asked “Is that J-A-Y or the letter J?” and the times when I’ve been at a restaurant with my brother Jay. 🙂

  2. S.

    I have an acquaintance who wrote this article about his quest for the perfect Starbucks name. (Or, as he puts it, “coffeenym.”)

    Note: site will try to automatically play sound at you; there should be an icon near the top to turn that off.

    On a personal note, I am far from alone among trans people in using Starbucks names in an attempt to see how I feel about potential new names in practice. The obvious pitfall is that the method depends on baristas getting that name right…

  3. Brian Tung

    I have a Starbucks name. It’s “Jason.” There are two parts of the origin story.

    Part the First: I’m the first son of a first son, and the first born in the U.S. When I was born, my parents declined to give me an English name; my legal name is the Anglicized version of my Chinese name. Which I guess was understandable, but it’s also understandable that I was a bit envious when my sister was given an English name when she was born about a decade later.

    It’s also understandable that I felt like I had been given a bit of the short end of the stick when I say that our family friends, the ones I played with, generally had English names too, and that their parents—my parents’ cohort—also had English names, and even my parents THEMSELVES had English names, which they chose. They simply didn’t give me one.

    Many years later, my parents explained it as them wanting to preserve the Chinese culture in me. Or for me. By this time I was no longer upset, but merely curious.

    Anyway, back when I was still covetous of an English name, I mentioned it to my mom.

    “Well, OK,” she said, solicitously. “What name would you like?”

    I hadn’t thought about that, actually. I had focused so much attention on wanting an English name that I hadn’t considered what name that should be.

    “What about ‘Jason’?” she suggested.

    It’s a nice name, one of a few that was popular then and still is now. And yet I recoiled. The problem was that there was a boy by that name at school that I was on the outs with, and it would never do for an eight-year-old boy to share a name with an archenemy. It’s funny to think about what I used to concern myself with. So the matter dropped back out of consciousness again.

    The time would come when I would choose the name Brian, just before college. Too many people knew me by my Chinese name to make the change any earlier. There was only one other Brian of my acquaintance at my high school (and fortunately, I didn’t dislike him), so it seemed safe.

    Then I got to college, and moved into the dorms. On my floor: Fifteen boys, three Brians.

    Part the Second: Many years later, I used to lunch at the Shack in Marina del Rey. (It’s still there, as far as I know.) The Shack is a counter-service outfit: You order at the register, and then when your food is ready, they call your name over the intercom.

    Back in the 1990s, when I started eating there, the intercom was terrible. I think it had been borrowed from the Philadelphia subway system. As a result, all one-syllable names were transformed into essentially identical auditory blurs. At lunchtime, there was mass confusion as several people would stand up and inspect a single lunch tray to see if it was theirs.

    My friend Greg had a solution: He had a Shack name. His Shack name was Elwood. (One guess as to where he got that from.) What came through the intercom wasn’t obviously Elwood, but it was distinct enough from the other names that he could invariably tell when his food was ready.

    I decided I wanted a Shack name, too. The obvious choice was Jake, but that was too similar to Dave, Ray, Jane, and about eighty other names. So I picked Jason, and that too was distinctive enough, and also different enough from Elwood. Need to keep the Hamming distance up.

    And I started using it elsewhere, too. Like at Starbucks. And since “Shack name” isn’t a well-known term, I consider it my Starbucks name. The Starbucks I go to, ridiculously regularly, ONLY know me as Jason. I go by it so religiously they can’t imagine me by any other name. I’ve changed the name on my Starbucks card to Jason.

    Also Jason Enameit and I got over our tiff in about three months. That seemed like FOREVER.


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